SEJONG, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's agriculture minister called for all-out efforts to prevent a further spreading of avian influenza (AI) Tuesday, following a series of new suspected outbreaks in areas close to the capital Seoul.
"The government has so far put its utmost efforts to prevent a spread of AI and to eradicate the animal disease at an early date," Lee Dong-phil, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, told a press briefing.
Lee, however, noted government efforts alone may not be enough.
"We may be able to eradicate AI at an earlier date if we all work together," he said.
The minister asked that poultry farm owners continue their quarantine efforts and continue sterilizing their facilities to prevent any inflow of AI virus into their farms.
He also asked that people avoid visiting areas, such as reservoirs, that provide homes to migratory birds, especially during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday that begins Thursday.
The government has pointed to migratory birds as the original source of bird flu after the virulent H5N8 strain of bird flu was identified in a group of wild ducks found dead Jan. 17 at a reservoir near a duck farm that first reported the outbreak of AI.
The highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has since been identified in 13 other cases involving wild birds, according to Deputy Agriculture Minister Lee Joon-won.
The minister's statement came one day after the government placed a 12-hour lockdown at all poultry farms in three provinces, creating what it called a window of opportunity to simultaneously sterilize all infection sources, including temporary homes for migratory birds.
Despite such efforts three new suspected cases have been reported since Monday, bringing the total number of suspected cases to 20, according to the ministry.
So far, the H5N8 strain of AI has been confirmed at 25 poultry farms, up from 17 farms on Monday. The 12-hour lockdown in North, South Chungcheong provinces and in Gyeonggi Province was lifted at 6 p.m. Monday.
More than 1.5 million birds have been culled since the first outbreak was reported Jan. 16 at a duck farm in Gochang, 300 kilometers southwest of Seoul in North Jeolla Province. Some 530,000 additional poultry, mostly ducks and chickens, are also set to be slaughtered.
Ministry officials have said the H5N8 strain, unlike a few other strains of bird flu, posed no immediate threats to humans, noting no human infection of the strain has been reported.